Saturday 28 May 2022

Invisible royalty

Download audio file read by Glyn Moody.

It has been a dream since time immemorial to be granted one infinitely potent wish.  For those in myth and fable who have realised this dream, the results have not been happy.  When Paris asked for the most beautiful woman in the world, he gained not only Helen but also the Trojan War, his city's fall and his own death.  And Midas' unconsidered lust for gold destroyed the only thing he loved, his daughter.

People err in choosing causes rather than effects.  We say we want limitless wealth or power: we should consider why we want them.  Wealth and power are abstractions, realised only in their manifestation as ulterior objects and acts.  Given that any cause ramifies infinitely and in unsuspected ways, it is hardly surprising that neglecting to specify effects brings its attendant problems.

Intoxicated by possibilities, people also err in going to extremes.  To be rich you do not need to turn everything you touch to a precious metal, however seductive the symbolism may be.  Similarly, dominion over the world is trickier to wield than to ask for: the higher you rise, the more visible your success, the more obvious the disparity between you and your rivals, and the greater the incentive for them to pull you down.

The secret of success in this endeavour seems to lie in two things.  First, to specify very precisely the desired result, and secondly to cause as few ripples as possible.  Ideally this would imply that you get what you want without disturbing the rest of the world in the slightest; then there are no vengeful Agamemnons to come thundering after you.

Following these principles, the perfect wish might be based on a simple, everyday observation: that sometimes you seem to be flowing with the tide, sometimes against it.  In the former condition, you turn up at a station, and a train appears ten seconds later; when you arrive at a theatre that is sold out, somebody next to you asks if anyone would like to buy some spare tickets; traffic lights turn green as you approach them, allowing you to drive straight through without slowing down.  All of these things happen to all of us; but not all of the time.  My wish would be that, for me, they did.

I do not specify how this is to happen: I ask only for some mild effects.  Mild because as far as the rest of the world is concerned, they do not exist.  For everyone else, the train would continue to arrive randomly, sometimes just after they arrive, sometimes not.  Spare tickets would still occasionally materialise for sold-out performances.  Only from my privileged perspective is something special going on.  There would be no resentment, no attempts to deny me this convenience, because no one would be aware of it.

Contrast this with the people for whom the train does always leave just after they arrive, and who never are turned away from theatres or wait for red traffic lights.  Those who have this awesome power today are called royalty; and the price they pay for it is awesome too.  I, who would pay nothing, would be a new, more splendid variety: an invisible royalty.


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